New Zealand Adventure Day 8: Punakaiki to Blenheim

Originally written on 1 January 2015.

We awoke to the blue skies we had become familiar with in New Zealand.  Having shed the previous day’s thick blanket of cold misty, a cool, crisp, bright day appeared.  And we were again in for a spectacular drive as we crossed the island from the west to its eastern shore.

The storm and raging river had whipped the waters into a dull brown the night before. But today the ocean cleared to a blue-gray beyond the white breakers.  The tempest left behind a dull froth of salt water that quivered in the wind.  I wanted to run through it.

Sea Foam

Punakaiki sits at the northernmost point of our west coast adventure.  It sits between the Tasmanian Sea and New Zealand’s temperate rain forest.  We briefly followed the coast north and saw signs along the road warning of penguin crossing.  But we were disappointed when we later learned they departed before the weather warmed.  As we turned inland and drove east into the hills we saw more ferns, moss, gushing waterfalls and swollen rivers.

In those hills before Blenheim our road followed the Buller river.  Its calm waters weaved through the hills.  And next to a truss bridge above it we enjoyed our usual gourmet sandwich lunch.

Buller River Lunch

A few hours later we were entering Marlborough, where the climate was quite different.

Marlborough is one of New Zealand’s great wine producing regions.  From my visits to Napa Valley I recognized the terrain and climate similarities that make both successful: long sunny days, cool nights, dry, rolling hills and rocky soil.  We arrived in the middle afternoon to blue skies and were soon covered by the same marine layer that blankets the San Francisco Bay area in summer nights.

I enjoyed a short run in Blenheim, the Marlborough region center.  The weather is quite cool for summer but perfect for running.  The names applies to cities and streets—Marlborough, Blenheim, Nelson—remind me of the historical golden years of the British empire.  I see names on every street that pique my curiosity and will surely lead me to another history book.

Clair and I stopped at a grocery store on the way into town with hopes of buying our third portion of Green Lipped mussels.  But they were sold out.  So, we’ve settled for a tomato sauce over fresh fettuccine.  To make good use of local fresh food we’re adding some venison sausages made daily from the supermarket.

Tomorrow is our bike tour of wine country!


New Zealand Adventure Day 7: Fox Glacier to Punakaiki

Originally written on 31 December 2014.

Clair and I woke up in our luxurious camper to a bleak day. Our adjacency to the rugged west coast of New Zealand also provided direct access to its cold, wet winds. I could tell the day’s drive would be difficult.

When I was 23 I rented a truck to cross the United States to my new job in California. That truck was 10 feet tall and easily rocked by small gusts of wind. I remember crossing the Nevada border into Southern California and feeling the wind rock the truck on its suspension. But the windy periods were short and easily managed. This was not the case on the day we drove from Fox Glacier to Punakaiki.

I was fighting the wind all day. The wind drove inland from the foamy seas and constantly thrust the car to the right into oncoming traffic. My shoulders were sore from the strain after a couple hours.

There was one period that the wind actually scared me. Somewhere near Greymouth a two-lane bridge crossed turgid waters. Since the wind pushed me right I had an entire lane to manage the pressure and correct. But the opposing traffic did not. Indeed as we approached the far side of the bridge we could see the other side’s barrier was destroyed. We learned later that day that a car of tourists went over the side into the rushing river. The camper and its deceased occupants were pulled from the bottom of the river days later.

Once we parked in our camper park Clair and I visited the scant sites of Punakaiki: the pancake rocks, blow hole, and Punakaiki cavern. These were mildly interesting at best.  But at this time the skies cleared and we enjoyed some glorious sunshine.

Ocean from Pancake Rocks Ocean from Pancake Rocks View from Pancake Rocks

A hidden path from the rear of our camper lot brought us to the ocean. The furious storm whipped the sea into a quivering foam. In our afternoon stroll the foam collected at the tide’s edge in a six-inch slurry. By morning, when the skies and waters had cleared, the foam remained on the beach. But by then it had deposited much further from the water and piled to about one meter.

Beach by Punakaiki

A warm tavern stood next to our site and it wasn’t long before we were in it having a beer. This before our second night of much-anticipated mussels. I really cannot overstate how incredible fresh New Zealand green lipped mussels are. The bigger ones eclipsed my palm and an entire kilogram of them cost less than $4 USD. Fried in butter and white wine with a dash of parsley we loved them.

New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel

Mussels and Pasta

Right after dinner the rain restarted. But we retired to our mobile castle with a bottle of sparkling wine from Marlborough to toast the end of 2014.